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Autism NI was a member of the Steering Group of the Department of Education "Northern Ireland Task Group on Autism". The resultant analysis of services for children and young people with Autism contained within the Task Group Report of 2002 was a catalogue of inadequate researching, knowledge and strategic direction for Autism which has formed the basis of planned action within the Education Sector in Northern Ireland over the intervening years.
For Autism NI it informed the dawning awareness that parent and professional empowerment was not enough to produce the provision of services required to meet the deepening need resulting from the accelerating demand on already stretched resources caused by the dramatic rise in prevalence of Autism.
In 2002, Autism NI initiated a political awareness and Lobby Campaign that resulted in the formation of a cross party group of MLAs willing to take on the role of Autism Ambassadors within the Northern Ireland Assembly. Between 2002 and 2006, activity centred upon individual briefings on Autism to key MLAs, presentations to the Health & Education Committees, regular e-mail briefing updates to the Assembly Autism Ambassadors, liaison regarding the two Assembly Debates on Autism and regional Lobby events within Parliament Buildings.
Activity accelerated in 2006 as the Northern Ireland Assembly resumed activity in the transition mode following a period of Direct Rule from Westminster (London). The return of the devolved structures and responsibilities unleashed a heightened level of activity by Autism NI in moving forward political action for Autism. 2006 also marked the start of the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership committed to exchange of best practice and peer support for political lobbying.
2007 began “in style” with an Assembly Debate which gained unanimous cross party support for Legislation for Autism. Autism NI organised a Celtic Nations & Northern Ireland Assembly delegation to Washington later in the year and this led to the establishment of the Atlantic Autism Alliance and the signing of a historic Memorandum of Understanding on Autism between the US Congress & the Northern Ireland Assembly. Early in 2008, the All Party Assembly Group on Autism was founded and work began on the code for legislation for Autism in Northern Ireland. As events (2008/2009) in National Parliaments & Assemblies celebrated the formation of the Celtic Partnership, the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee visited adult services provided by Autism Initiatives, Autism NI, Orchardville Society & NOW Project as well as the Welsh Assembly to learn more about the Welsh Assembly Government National Autism Strategy. These fact finding events provided the context for the Stand Up for Autism Rally at Stormont in March 2009 and a Northern Ireland Debate on Autism which began the detailing of the content of planned legislation.
All of this paved the way for the introduction by the All Part Group on Autism (APGA) of the Autism Bill NI on 8th November 2010, sponsored by Dominic Bradley MLA. The Autism Act (NI) 2011 was passed by the NI Assembly (15/3/11) for Royal Assert before becoming law in August 2011.
Autism NI continues to build a just society for all with Autism!
- Public awareness through events and campaigns eg, the 'Light It Up Blue' campaign
- Training to public bodies regarding the practical adjustments required as a remit of the Autism Act
- Responses to public consultations to ensure Autism is represented and understood throughout all public services and facilities. In 2011/13 we responded to over 200 consultations from NI Executive Departments and other public bodies, to advise them of new obligations under the new Autism Legislation.
Policy and Practice Improvements
- Lobbying for effective implementation of the NI Autism Strategy and Action Plan established under the Autism Act
- Lobbying for effective funding of cross departmental service developments
- Working for evidence based service developments through Autism NI's role in Chairing the NI Autism Strategy Research Advisory Committee and in partnering with the University of Ulster and the Cardiff Autism Research Centre
- Working with governments across the UK, Ireland and Europe through the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership (CNAP)
- Providing evidence to the Equality Commission NI
- Providing evidence to the Children's Law Centre (CLC) and the Law Centre regarding issues related to inequality and failure to provide
- Representatives to the NI Children's Commission
- Membership of PILS project (Public and Interest Litigation Support)